LAHORE, Pakistan — All through the years of the Soviet empire, its Politburo held “elections.” Of course, calling something an election and actually having it be an election are different things.I am under house arrest in Lahore, barricaded in by Pakistani police with bayonets. Despite Gen. Pervez Musharraf‘s announcement of a date for parliamentary elections, I doubt that we are in for a change.
I cautioned the general earlier this year that his election as president by the present parliament was illegal. He insisted otherwise.
We agreed to disagree and decided that we both would accept a ruling by the Supreme Court regarding eligibility.
Yet when the court was on the brink of deciding, Musharraf imposed martial law by suspending the constitution, and he removed several of the Supreme Court justices. Today the nation is paying for his mistake.
We are witnessing a farce in Pakistan: While an election schedule has been announced, the problem lies in what has not been announced. No indication has been given as to whether Musharraf will keep his previous commitment to retire as army chief on Thursday.
No date has been given for the lifting of emergency rule; the reconstitution of the election commission; the implementation of fair election practices; the removal of biased officials; or the suspension of the mayors, who control the guns and the funds — that is, police and government resources — to adversely influence elections.
Moreover, judges, lawyers, human rights activists and students across the country are in prison or under house arrest. The independent media have been shut down, television stations stopped from broadcasting news. Several foreign journalists have been expelled. Thousands of political activists, a majority from my Pakistan People’s Party, have been arrested.
Police have erected barricades and deployed armored personnel carriers and trucks filled with sand to cut off access to my house and to prevent people from going from one city to another.
Musharraf knows how to crack down against pro-democracy forces. He is, however, unwilling or unable to track down and arrest Osama bin Laden or contain the extremists. This is the reality of Pakistan in November 2007.
The only terror that Musharraf’s regime seems able to confront is the terror of his own illegitimacy. This is the second time Musharraf has imposed martial law and the second time he has sacked judges since taking over the country in a coup in 1999. It was then that he first promised “to bring true democracy.”
The election commission has promulgated election rolls judged illegitimate by Pakistan’s Supreme Court and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. Some polling sites have been kept secret. Musharraf’s political opposition is banned from campaigning or organizing and has been denied access to state-controlled media. We cannot meet, we cannot rally, and when we try to bring the people to the streets they are gassed, beaten and shot at with rubber bullets. This is not only a military dictatorship, it is a classic police state.
On top of a litany of assaults on the rule of law, the general has unilaterally amended the Army Act of 1952 to grant the army the power to try civilians in military courts. Courts-martial will operate by military rules in secret, and defendants are not allowed legal representation.
No attempt has been made to differentiate between average citizens and terrorism suspects associated with militant groups. Many believe that these laws were passed to intimidate pro-democracy forces, not to try terrorism suspects. This is the “democracy” that Musharraf envisages.
While living in America when I attended Harvard in the early 1970s, I saw for myself the awesome, almost miraculous, power of a people to change policy through democratic means. Today I am seeing the power of the people coalescing once again. Journalists, judges, and political and civil activists have joined together against Musharraf’s second declaration of martial law. They see him as the obstacle to the democratization of Pakistan.
This is why I have called upon Gen. Musharraf to resign as president and chief of army staff, and to pave the way for the composition of an interim government of national consensus that will oversee the transfer of power to duly elected representatives of the people.
The people of the Soviet Union knew that “elections” for the Politburo were fraudulent. The people of Pakistan know that elections under martial law are a similar sham.
By Benazir Bhutto
Wednesday, November 14, 2007